What can private corporations do to employees? Just about everything

Employers in the private sector can be fired for just about any reason, and most rights we take for granted don't necessarily apply. Do workers need an Employee Bill of Rights?

In his new book Can they do that?, Lewis Maltby says that employees are often surprised at the reasons over which they can be fired.

With all that you hear today in the news about employees suing former employers, you'd think that it would be very difficult for an employer to actually fire someone. But the reality is different in the private sector.

In a recent interview on NPR, Maltby said, "Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment - but only where the government is concerned. What most Americans generally don't know is that the Constitution doesn't apply to private corporations at all."

Private corporations can fire someone for almost anything. Maltby related an incident when a worker was fired for having a bumper sticker that expressed a political view that did not jibe with the CEO's.

The only thing that a corporation cannot do is eavesdrop on a personal oral conversation. Anything else, Maltby said, "is open season."

I've written before about how employers-potential and existing-are within legal limits to peruse individuals' personal blogs or Facebook pages, and to watch what you put there. Maltby says employers do this regularly and can fire someone over what they see.

And it doesn't stop there. In his book, Maltby relates stories of employer abuses that include tracking employees through cell phone GPS locators to placing hidden cameras in restrooms. He says that 20% of employers now require employees to agree before being hired not to go to court if the corporation violates their legal rights.

While most people would agree that a private company has the right to run itself any way it sees fit, you can see how this right could be abused. Maltby is pushing for the Bill of Rights to apply to the private sector. In the book appendixes, he provides sample letters to elected representatives and human rights organizations as well as an Employee Bill of Rights.

This post is also available as a PDF download.

By Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.